Perusing Peru travel blog

Road to Chan Chan

Chimu royalty

Peruvian hairless dog breed that has a higher than usual body temperature...

Our guide at work

Main courtyard of Palace #8

Walls with ocean and pelican motif (six on right-hand side are original,...

Palace wall with ocean and fish motif

More ocean and fish motif

Carving representing fishing nets

View over tiny portion of Chan Chan

Spiny friend

Flying pelican carving

Archeologists at work. These carvings are stylized geometric pelicans.

Just one of over 100 wells in Chan Chan. Totoro reeds needed...

Wildlife in the well

Water lilies

Restoring damage using toilet paper and alcohol to extract salt.

Chan Chan Idol

What Chimu family life may have been like

Carrying the monarch

Funeral mask

Recent excavation of a second palace

Hard at work

If you sleep on airplanes and buses for a few nights, it's amazing how wonderful a bed feels! We all slept like logs and had a hard time getting up when the alarm went off at 8am. We decided to try the small cafe next door for breakfast as they were advertising "organic coffee". We weren't sure what that was going to mean, but yesterday's coffee had been less than stellar. The Otro Cosa is a funky little place advocating fair trade crafts, organic foods and local fare. We had a great breakfast of muesli, nuts, yogurt and fresh fruits with fresh fruit juice and pretty darn good coffee. Not a bad start to the day!

Today, we had decided to explore the Chimu ruins of Chan Chan. The area around Trujillo, a city of 3/4 of a million people, has actually hosted a multitude of ancient cultures and civilizations. Two left their mark clearly -- the Moche (100AD - 750AD) and the Chimu (900AD - 1470AD). The ruins at Chan Chan are from the Chimu culture, while neighbouring ruins are from the Moche. The Chimu were conquered by the Incas who enslaved the Chimu and migrated them all over their empire. In turn, the Incas were conquered by the Spanish, so -- as our local guide put it -- there is history from the Moche, the Chimu, the Incas and the colonials (Spanish) in the area.

The ruins of Chan Chan which is the largest adobe city in the world spread over a huge area and is largely unexcavated. This area is a coastal desert and the ruins are buried under mounds of rough-looking mud piles. The area was declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986; excavation began on the site in 1964 with a team from Harvard University working on the site from for 8 years in the early 1970's. The area of the ruins is truly vast and it's easy to understand why only a small portion has been excavated.

Early efforts included not only excavation but restoration on one of the 9 palaces in the city. It seems that every time there was a new king, they built a new palace, hence 9 palaces -- more on that later. Between the palaces are the homes and other dwellings of the common people. Our guide told us that now there is no work being done on restoration, only excavation and preservation. It seems that there is great concern that the excavated site will be damaged by erosion (it's only about a km from the coast) so much of the carving is not being excavated until roofing can be constructed over the area. As well, elaborate conservation efforts are being made including extracting salt from the adobe walls using alcohol and toilet paper (!) and injecting cactus juice into the walls to hold them together. It sounds wierd but it all looks very official.

The excavated and partially restored palace we walked through was impressive -- beautiful carvings in the walls signifying the Chimu reverence for the moon and the sea as well as the pelican. The moon and the sea gods were more important for the Chimu as they controlled both agriculture and the tides; this is in contrast to the Incas who revered the sun above all other gods. Apparently, the Chimu also thought the moon was more powerful because it could be seen in both daytime and nighttime. Pelicans played two important roles for the Chimu -- they showed the Chimu where the banks of fish were and their excrement made excellent fertilizer for their crops.

The city was expanded in three phases as the Chimu civilization expanded, ultimately spanning from Tumbes near the Ecuadorian border to Lima. The construction of Chan Chan is directly related to the system of inheritance within the Chimu and other cultures. When a king died, his heir received only the political position or the crown. All the goods and rents the king had received passed to a group of their descendants who were charged with looking after the king in his afterlife. Therefore, the new king had to build his own palace to live there with his close family and to organize his own administration as the former administration stayed with the former king. To support his life, the new king had to conquer new territories. Understanding this makes it easier to understand why there were so many palaces and why such a fractured power structure could be conquered.

The Chimu were very skilled at finding water in this desert area and diverting it to their crops. Chan Chan had more than 100 artesian wells on-site as well as a complex network of canals to irrigate their crops. They even grew tortoro reeds inside the palace wells that were needed to create the reed boats

The reed boats that we have seen at the beach in Huanchaco were used by both the Moche and Chimu civilizations; their use dates back to around 100AD. We watched a new one being constructed on the beach today; it looks like they help nature out a little bit with a styrofoam core which must make flotation a little more certain and the problems of being water-logged a little bit less!

Another interesting factoid about the Chimu is that they didn't use stairs in their palaces, only ramps. Maybe the first truly accessible palace!

We're becoming used to the weather pattern here; the morning dawns cold, windy and overcast. By around 10:30, the sky begins to clear and by noon the sun is out and it's beginning to warm up. By 3pm it's full on sunshine albeit with persistent wind. By 5pm, the heat of the sun is beginning to wane and by 6pm the sun is starting to set. Once the sun is down, it's very crisp and breezy. It's fall here and that's what it feels like -- great fall weather with cool mornings and evenings. El Nino is a big deal here; it occurs about every seven years where large-scale changes in ocean currents and warmer surface water temperatures dump heavy rains and floods on the coastal areas. Tropical areas suffer drought and weather patterns world-wide are affected. It's called "El Nino" because it usually comes around Christmas-time. Apparently El Nino is usually followed by "La Nina" the next year when abnormally cool ocean currents create even more havoc and destruction. Chan Chan was badly damaged by heavy flooding and rains and thus the current focus on conservation efforts rather than restoration. I have no idea where Peru is in this cycle, but let's hope it's neither a Nina or a Nino year!

We found a very cute little pizzeria for dinner. Despite the very usual looking neon sign out front indicating the restaurant, it really looked like we were sitting in the owners' living room and we were definitely using their bathroom! But the food was good and the service warm and friendly. We haven't adjusted to the later eating times here and as a result, we are usually the only ones in whichever restaurant we choose. On the way home, we discovered a restaurant advertising espresso coffee drinks and delicious-sounding pastries so we popped in for a couple of Americanos and some apple pie and cheesecake.

We are all adjusting to Spanish very well. Dan speaks well and Adrian has a very good base given that he studied it this year at school. But it is Robin who has really picked it up quickly and uses it without fear or embarrassment. As for me, I speak only pidgin Spanish but everyone seems to get the drift of what I am trying to say!

Tomorrow we get back on the bus for another 8 hour trip back to Lima but this time we'll go during the day, arriving in Lima somewhere around 9pm. We have a very early flight to Iquitos in the northeast part of Peru -- I think it's around 5:30 am. We're planning to camp out in the airport as it makes little sense to check into a hotel at 9 pm and then out again at 3am. Another bed-less night!

We're going to Iquitos to experience the Amazon. Iquitos is the world's largest city that does not have road's either a flight or a 4 day boat trip from a town called Pucallpa which is not exactly easy to get to either! Iquitos is a major river port and the mouth of the Amazon. The Amazon basin comprises about 50% of Peru's land mass but only 5% of its population lives there. We're visiting a series of jungle lodges for 5 days so we won't be able to post for a few days. The lodges are run by a company called Explorama. You can read about our 5 day/4night trip at We'll be out of every kind of range while we are, blackberry, telephone. We'll post as soon as we hit land again.

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